File sharing: Send large files without emailing them

Sending large files as email attachments is a big pain in the keyboard. Some corporate email servers place a limit on their size, and if you have a bunch of photos or a video or a large PowerPoint presentation, you will quickly find out what this limit is and get a message saying the file can't be sent that way. (Gmail's current limit is 25 MB, and here is a handy comparison chart of webmail providers on Wikipedia that seems to be accurate.) If you are connecting when on the road with limited bandwidth, uploading a file can also take a long time. So what are your choices?

It used to be that you didn't have many options. You could upload the files to your Web site using the file transfer (FTP or the more secure SCP) protocols and have your correspondent transfer it back to their computer that way. If you have an Instant Messenger account, you can send the file that way too, although both of these are cumbersome and many of the corporations that are blocking large attachments are also blocking FTPs and IM transfers too.

One solution that I have already mentioned is yesterday, and that is a good place to start. If you have a series of files that you send to your correspondents regularly (like a price list or a presentation), then you avoid the upload time and the hassles of an email attachment.

Another method is to just use a file transfer service exclusively. You upload the file via a Web site and a simple fill-in form. Once the file has been uploaded, the service sends an email message to your recipient, with a link on how to get the file.

There are a number of free or freemium services (meaning they are free for limited use and then you pay to get more functionality) such as:

These typically put size limits on what you can transfer (100 or 200 MB, which doesn't sound like much these days, especially when you start moving video around).

There are also some that don't cost much, such as:

  • Leapfile, which gives you 5 GB of transfers for $20 a month
  • Dropbox, which gives you 2 GB of free online storage
  • Memeo Send -- The nice thing about Memeo is that there is no upper limit on what size file you send, because they charge you a buck for every 2 GB.

When you evaluate these service, look for the following features:

  • how much data you can send per month
  • whether they encrypt the file so no one else can read it
  • how long the file stays on their service before it is automatically deleted or archived
  • does the service tell you when your file has been delivered and opened by your recipient
  • whether they are completely Web-based or make use of a desktop client (like Memeo) to do the transfers.
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